Carey-Shuler says she wants Beacon Council to change its focus
By Shannon Pettypeice
Miami-Dade's commission chair says she still plans to refocus the Beacon Council's attention to underdeveloped areas, even though the economic development agency's executives say they only need to "tweak" existing programs and its relationship with county government.
County Commission chief Barbara Carey-Shuler wants the Beacon Council more engaged in urban development.
"I've got big plans for them," she said on Monday. "We are going to work up something good."
Beacon Council officials say they already have programs to help less-developed areas and only need to get the word out about the their programs and make minor adjustments.
"If there is something we could do a better job with, it is outreach and communication," Beacon Council Chairman Calixto Garcia-Velez said last week. "We have always been very active in helping companies in those areas."
Mr. Garcia-Velez said the Beacon Council's mission is to create and retain jobs in the whole county.
As Miami-Dade's official economic development partnership, the Beacon Council will get $3.7 million from the county next year via occupational-license taxes, said Jurgan Teintze of the county's budget office. They also receive private money from membership fees, donations and state and federal grants.
Commissioner Carey-Shuler, whose district includes Overtown, Little Haiti, Liberty City and Allapatah, said this week that she plans to schedule a meeting soon with Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, to discuss her ideas for how his agency should expand efforts to attract businesses to underdeveloped areas.
One part of her plan includes having the Beacon Council lobby for tax-free zones in certain parts of the county, similar to programs in Michigan and New Jersey, where companies in underdeveloped areas are not required to collect sales taxes.
Assistant County Manager Tony Crapp and liaison to the Beacon Council, said his office has been looking at a tax-free system and he plans to visit New Jersey to see that state's system in action.
Another part of Commission Chair Carey-Shuler's plan would have the Beacon Council helping in a lobbying effort to renew and revise legislation creating an Empowerment Zone and Enterprise Community, which would give tax breaks to businesses in needy areas.
Mr. Crapp that next year there will be an opportunity to broaden or narrow the scope of the federally-mandated zones.
And, she said those are only two pieces to her plans for the Beacon Council.
The Beacon Council, Mr. Crapp said, is already involved in both those issues to some extent.
Beacon Council officials say they have always been involved in helping disadvantaged areas of the county with limited resources and a staff of 32.
"We always make an effort to focus on those areas because it makes economic sense," said Carlos Leonard, the council's vice president of business development.
Ultimately, Mr. Leonard said, it is up to business owners to decide where they want to locate and all the Beacon Council can do is inform them of their options and available incentives.
"It is not our decision, it is the companies'," Mr. Leonard said. "We are really the marketing tool."
Mr. Nero said in a written statement last month that there are many county, municipal and community groups created to focus on underdeveloped areas in addition to the Beacon Council, which he said is mainly a marketing organization.
Commissioner Carey-Shuler responded to his statement by saying that "we don't give those groups $4 million a year."
In the past several years, the Beacon Council says, it has:
Sent mailings to companies to inform them about economic incentives in state-designated disadvantaged areas or Empowerment Zones.
Sponsored bus tours for business leaders and site selectors that show communities such as Allapatah, Melrose and the Miami River area.
Created an Urban Task Force, comprised of Beacon Council staffers and volunteers.
Those programs have resulted in a sharp increase in the number of businesses that have moved to or expanded in state-designated underdeveloped zones, according to council officials. Last year, the Beacon Council helped relocate or expand 17 businesses in Enterprise Zones, a drastic increase from several years ago, Mr. Leonard said.
One of the Beacon Council's pet projects in the past year was to lure jet manufacturer Safire to Opa-locka. Officials at Safire said the Beacon Council was extremely helpful in navigating them through the area's political and business circles.
"They have been very helpful, and they were instrumental in us coming here," said David Drugman, vice president of human resources at Safire. "They helped us in our introduction to local businesspeople as well as politicians."
Safire has not signed a permanent contract for land next to Opa-locka Airport, where it plans to build a $45 million facility but does have temporary space with 45 employees in the city. Safire expects to have 1,000 full-time employees eventually.
Peter Ehrlich, one of the largest property owners in Little Haiti, is a Beacon Council detractor. He said he did not get a response after several phone calls and letters to the council when he sought help to save 119 businesses in Little Haiti when the City of Miami was planning to displace them by building a park. The city eventually changed its plans and the businesses are no longer threatened with eviction.
"Their jobs is to help protect jobs, and we didn't even get a response," he said. " There were 1,000 jobs for poor people that weren't going to be replaced, and I couldn't get a call back."